Tag Archives: Mackenzie

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of October 6, 2013

6 Oct

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Historical Romance writer, Katherine Ashe, is giving readers a fantastic Christmas present with the release of her holiday novella, Kisses, She Wrote: A Christmas Romance. When a rakish earl stumbles across the diary of a wallflower princess whose fantasies are anything but demure, sparks are going to burst into flames that will light the Yule fire, for sure. One of the best pieces of this novella? It’s currently only $.99 on Amazon. If you’re too eager to wait until December 3rd, then check out Ashe’s website for a tantalizing snippet. Ashe fans might also want to note that her full-length Regency ghost story (with a romance at its center), Captive Bride, is also reduced down to $.99 as well.

Samanthe Beck’s McCade Brothers series has just become one of my favorites since I read the associated novella in Lovers Unmasked and bought and read the first book in the series, Lover Undercover (awesome!!!), so I was thrilled to see that the next installment of the series, Falling for the Marine, will be out at the end of October. A marine helicopter pilot with a back injury is anxious to get back into the pilot’s seat but when he’s hot neighbor is the masseuse assigned to him she’s not the only one with straying hands. Entangled publishing is great with pricing, so this hot novel by a great author is only $2.99. Mine is already pre-ordered!

Dianne Duvall just released the fourth book in her Immortal Guardians series, Darkness Rises, featuring a beautiful swordswoman who gets the drop on vampire and the two-hundred year old guardian who realizes the vamps she’s killing have influential friends, a fact that puts her and his fellow guardians, in danger. Released on October 1st, this 400+ page paranormal romance is under $6 for its ebook version which suddenly places the series on my “to-read” list!

Fantastic new author Kat Latham (who blew me away with the first book in her rugby-based London Legends series, Knowing the Score) will be offering a connected Christmas novella to her series, Mine Under the Mistletoe, due out on December 5th. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy! No cover art as of yet, but I’ll let you know when it comes out.

I was impressed with the intensity of Shannon McKenna’s One Wrong Move, which made me thrilled to see its sequel, Fatal Strike, was just published in trade paperback and ebook form at the end of September. Containing more of a pronounced paranormal element than its predecessor (which still had one, it was just subtle) this book features a captured woman tortured like a lab rat with injections that bring out psychic powers. She finds herself escaping to a safe place where a handsome, protective man exists who always makes her feel better but she thinks he’s a product of her imagination until he bursts through the door. Bring. It. On.

Giveaways and Contests

While Lauren Dane fans are reveling in the publication of her latest book in the Brown Siblings saga, Drawn Together, this week, they need to not forgot that this prolific author does not rest on her laurels, but always has yet another amazing book coming out. Her Bound By Magick series is about to have the fourth book published in early November, Wild Darkness, but readers should note that Goodreads is actually having a giveaway (ending October 11th) if you wanted to see if you could win a copy.

Author Cassandra Carr has always given us great sports romances, so it’s not a surprise that her recent contest is running under a “Hockey Hotties” moniker! Enter to win a selection from her backlist of great hockey romances by leaving a comment on the webpage.

Sports romance fans need to run not walk over to Give Me Books in order to enter that blog’s Extreme Jock Giveaway. I’m still reeling from the prizes – 44 author signed paperbacks, 97 ebooks, 19 ebook sets, various swag and even a few book retailer gift cards!! Be warned that the Rafflecopter giveaway is naturally extensive with so many authors participating (you’re going to spend a decent amount of time tweeting and clicking those Facebook like buttons for entries) but it’s so worth it.

Entangled Teen has collaborated with Hesperia Loves Books to produced an unbelievable giveaway to support Breast Cancer Awareness and research. Running for the month of October, this giveaway gives participants the chance to win over twenty books, many of them signed, by authors such as Jeaniene Frost and Lori Foster. Tweeting and posting on Facebook about the giveaway gives extra points, but consider the multi-point bonus that comes with donating to the National Breast Cancer research program (the link is right in the rafflecopter giveaway). I did in honor of my Aunt Martha who is currently fighting breast cancer (and who loves romance) and I’m sure you can think of someone who has suffered through this disease. SUCH a great cause!

Paranormal romance readers who like their books a little to the left of steamy hot are already familiar with Joey W. Hill’s Vampire Queen series, but right now on Goodreads, she’s also giving away the first book in her Arcane Shot series, Something About Witches. Featuring a witch who prefers the reliability of a handgun to a spell and the sorcerer she pushed away years before who needs her help, this book (and series) is worth a look. This was the intention of Berkeley Sensation publishing who are gearing up for Hill’s new release on December 3rd, Unrestrained, by giving away books from all her various series. Thanks, Berkeley! Enter by October 11th for a chance to win.

Historical mystery readers who love their puzzles with a touch of romance will want to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Banquet of Lies by Michelle Diener. In Regency London a young woman must pose as the French chef of a nobleman in order to be positioned to ferret out her father’s killer and protect the document he entrusted to her prior to his death. Her employer’s curiosity and obvious romantic interest runs the risk of exposing not only her identity but also attracting exactly the one person she needs to avoid if she is to survive. Enter by October 11th for a chance to win.

If Banquet of Lies has you thinking about French food and Paris, you might want to check out the Travel Channel’s contest to win the “Parisian Trip of a Lifetime!” Six days and five nights for two at a cushy hotel in the City of Lights, including a half-day private tour (I think I’d go just for this), a two-hour Parisian bakery workshop (okay, nix the previous statement, I’d go for this), and $1500 spending money. *sigh*

Karen Hawkins’ second book in her The Duchess Diaries series is also being offered as a Goodreads giveaway and historical romance readers will definitely want to give How to Pursue a Princess a good look, whether they win or not. A young woman is pressured to make a good match and hopes she’s going to fall for the wealthy Earl her godmother thinks is perfect, until the hot and penniless Russian prince walks into the room. Whoops. Enter before October 12th to take this one home.

Signet Publishing deserves some major kudos for the outstanding covers of Marie Claremont’s historical series Mad Passions. This Victorian romance series has just had the second book in the series, Lady in Red, come out on October 1st, but if you haven’t yet picked it up, you may want to try to win a copy by entering the Goodreads giveaway before October 15th. This dark series’ installment features a young noblewoman who manages to escape the asylum in which her father has placed her, to run right into the arms of a duke who might very well be her salvation. That he finds her torment to mirror his own only binds them together as they fight for her future.

Fun Stuff

My deep-seated admiration for Laura Kaye’s writing is hardly a secret, and I’ve put on the Sunday posts how much I’m looking forward to her upcoming book, Hard As It Gets, which is the first in her new Hard Ink series. Thankfully for her fans (and quite frankly, any woman who enjoys eye-candy!), Avon Publishing has produced a fantastic video with her being interviewed about her inspiration for the characters. She’s delightful, the Baltimore backdrop lovely, and the tattooed figures…um…quite inspiring. Take a look!

Macy’s is selling a dress by Tommy Hillfiger featuring a great print that is row upon row of books. In the shirtwaist style, this looks awesome with boots and is a reasonable $79.95. I’m so on this.

For every girl who used her mother’s bangles to mimic Wonder Woman’s cuffs or pretended to be Barbara Gordon turning into Batgirl, there is a great nonfiction book, The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines by Mike Madrid. Right now this informative text is an amazing $1.99 at Amazon, so feed your inner Superwoman and download it in a flash.

Great Deals

I was thrilled to find on M. L. Buchman’s blog a note that some of his fantastic novellas which accompany his The Night Stalkers military romance series were being offered in a “romance bundle” from StoryBundle. Not having heard of that particular store, I went to take a look and was wowed by the mission of the website. Designed to promote indie authors by offering their books together with other books as a “bundle” around a given theme, the site’s founders hope to encourage you to find new authors you might enjoy. Unlike the great $.99 bundles on Amazon I often promote, StoryBundle also 1) lets you set your own price for the bundle (although it suggests an incredibly affordable one) and 2) encourages you to add an extra percentage which they donate toward charities encouraging writing and literacy among children. How awesome is that? Books are downloaded in either .mobi or .epub form so Kindle users or other ebook readers can all handle the files. Take a look at the romance bundle to realize that this is no pure donation – not only Buchman’s books but also independent books from Stephanie Laurens, Jo Beverly, Mary Jo Putney and Kristine Grayson. WOW!

Historical romance writer Courtney Milan’s Turner series novella, Unlocked, is on sale for $.99 right now on Amazon. A little over 100 pages, this story features a wallflower determined to stand up to her former tormentor upon hearing he’s returned to England. That he’s here to apologize for his past behavior doesn’t seem to quench her ire and the nobleman in question finds he wants much more than her forgiveness.

I’ve never read a suspense story that happened to be a Western, but I’m about to change that with the news that B. J. Daniels’ Harlequin Intrigue novel, The New Deputy in Town, is free for download on Amazon right now. When a new lawmen has to solve a bridal shower murder and everyone in the heroine’s family had a motive, things are bound to become complicated quickly.

Lyndsay Sands’ Argeneau Vampires series is understandably famous, so it’s always a good deal when they are discounted. Right now, The Accidental Vampire, the seventh book in the series, is marked down to only $1.99, a terrific deal. Starring a new vampire trying to adjust to coffin life on her own who gets set up by well-meaning friends on a blind date, the heroine is thrilled to discover the experienced vampire Victor Argeneau on the other side of the table. He’s good-looking enough to have his pick of woman with a heartbeat or without, but he definitely wants to help her, particularly after the realization that someone wants to put an end to his sweet fledgling’s new existence.

Having just reviewed Jennifer Ashley’s latest in the Highland Pleasures series, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, I’m thrilled to note that the accompanying Christmas novella, A Mackenzie Family Christmas is actually FREE right now on Amazon for its ebook form, so run over and grab it while the price lasts.

I love Cat Johnson’s Westerns but her Red, Hot and Blue series has always demonstrated she knows her way around a man in uniform (and out of it as well, mrrrrooow!). The third book in the series (each named after the hero), Jimmy, is now available for free download at Amazon, so check it out. An undercover Special Forces hero, the red-haired daughter of a senator, and one unbelievably hot one night stand (did I mention terrorists?) all make for an unbeatable combination.

That’s the scoop for this week. Happy Reading! 🙂

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel MacKenzie Puts Jennifer Ashley at the Top of Historical Romance

2 Oct

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #6 – Daniel and Violet) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, October 1, 2013)

Oh, Daniel. Daniel, Daniel, Daniel.

I’ve had a pretty big soft spot in my heart for Daniel Mackenzie since he was the determined teenager bent of making sure his dissipated father, Lord Cameron Mackenzie, recognized that love had finally slapped him the face in the form of the lovely Ainsley Douglas in The Many Sins of Lord Cameron.

How could you not love him? Because Daniel, like his dad, was also damaged by his insane mother prior to her suicide, he has always possessed an aura of the Mackenzie suffering. Yet the fact that he was able to see his father and each of his more damaged uncles find love and happiness meant that Daniel had the potential to be a little braver and more astute when it came time for him to find the woman who would be meant for him.

In the latest Highland Pleasures full-length novel, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, Daniel, now in his mid-twenties, embodies the height of the Victorian age of progress in 1890, utilizing his brilliant mind and his engineering degree developing steerable hot air balloons and tinkering with horseless carriages. When an aristocratic spendthrift insists on repaying a gambling debt to the lucky Daniel by taking him to a London house, Daniel thinks he’s going to a courtesan’s home and wants to make sure the lady in question is going to be all right with this drunk loser. What he finds is Mademoiselle Violette Bastien, a spiritual medium who is undoubtedly and positively a fraud.

The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Highland Pleasures #3 – Cam and Ainsley) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, 2011)

But she’s a stunning, vibrant incredibly smart fraud and after Daniel manages to run off the pack of overindulged nobility who came with him he admiringly examines all the bells and whistles she’s managed to rig up utilizing the home’s internal systems. Attracted by her brain as much as her spirit and delectable body, Daniel can’t help but take a taste and finds himself knocked unconscious for his pains, right after glimpsing a very real look of fear in the eyes of the lovely Violet. When he wakes, she and her mother are long gone, and his gut is telling him not to let go of this particular mystery.

So begins the chase. Jennifer Ashley once again wins my undying admiration as a writer because she pulls off the total believability (in historical romance, no less) of a man fourth in line to a dukedom potentially having a happily ever after with a lower middle class con artist from Southwark. She manages this through a combination of outstanding writing (these two characters are so obviously compatible it’s impossible to imagine them with anyone else) and by spending the other eight books in the series (don’t forget the two novellas!) building the impossible Mackenzie family.

The Mackenzies we all know and love really don’t give a crap about Victorian society’s conventions, to the point where some of them (hell, all of them) actively thumb their nose at what’s expected. After living without love for so long, every Mackenzie is ready to help Daniel get his girl even if she’s not as suitable as the previous women who have married into the family.

Violet is a beautifully rendered character who tugs at the heartstrings. After hearing what her life has been like – she has literally never had anyone look after her and has suffered greatly as a result – you love and admire her as much as Daniel does. As she slowly trusts him enough to reveal her past piece by piece, Daniel’s gentling of her skittishness about anything physical is so sensual and patient that its impossible not to have a couple of heart-melting moments. Naturally we get to see all our favorite Mackenzies, with those babies more grown up and actually talking with their personalities blazing bright. Heaven!

There is a teaser chapter at the end for the next full-length novel in the series, Rules for a Proper Governess, which will be the story of Ainsley’s brother Sinclair, the brilliant Scottish barrister who flattens opponents in the courtroom while not being able to manage his two hellion children after the death of their mother seven years ago. It looks like another unlikely pairing will be in Ashley’s capable hands as the female in question seems even more shady than Violet, but I’ve no doubt she is exactly what Sinclair needs. Since his story won’t come out until early October 2014, we are waiting for the next novella – the story of the other MacBride brother Stephen, who I don’t know too much about – in September 2014. I’m hoping that big wait means I have oodles more Shifters Unbound books headed my way since another of Ashley’s brilliant features is her ability to write astoundingly well in multiple genres.

With yet another amazing book in the Highland Pleasures series which I adore (and right on the heels of the novella The Untamed Mackenzie which was outstanding), Jennifer Ashley has convinced me of not only the suitability of an unlikely pairing in historical romance (no easy feat given my intense preference for historical accuracy) but also that she is a historical romance author bar none. Do yourself a favor and pick up The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie as soon as you can. He might be wicked, but it’s been worth the wait to see this Mackenzie all grown up.

The Untamed Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley Proves Even Illegitimate Members of the Family Are Sexy and Smart When It Comes to True Love

13 Sep

The Untamed Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #5.5 – Lloyd and Louisa) (Berkley, September 10, 2013)

I was so pissed off on Tuesday. With a massively busy day at work I couldn’t stay up until midnight the night before to await the delivery of my pre-ordered copy of The Untamed Mackenzie, a book I have been waiting for since discovering the connection of the brilliant but antagonistic London detective who harasses Ian Mackenzie in the first book of the Highland Pleasures series, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. Then I was too tired after a fourteen hour day to do anything but faceplant into my pillow that night.

Luckily for me, my mother had to have cataract surgery (this was not lucky for her, obviously) and I had to “take care of her” for most of the day (thanks, Mom!). While she slept off the anesthesia – she’s doing extremely well, BTW, exclaiming over all the signs she can read clearly – I dove into Jennifer Ashley-land which is a pretty, pretty place filled with characters I adore. If you haven’t yet read any of this Victorian series, I’ve reviewed the Highland Pleasures books before which might give you a idea if the books are a good match for your reading style. (Hint: Do you like reading? They are a good match.)

Detective Lloyd Fellows has had to deal with some guff from his co-workers since it became public knowledge that he was born on the wrong side of the blanket – and that blanket was the Mackenzie tartan belonging to one of the most powerful and wealthy Scottish families in the realm. The Mackenzie brothers and their spouses have gone out of their way to make Lloyd and his barmaid mother feel welcome at family events, but he still feels like a fish out of water after years of hating the aristocracy.

There is one exception to that rule. Lady Louisa Scranton, sister of Isabella Mackenzie (Lloyd’s feisty sister-in-law), is the beautiful redhead who has starred in Lloyd’s dreams since they shared two unbelievably passionate kisses at various Mackenzie functions. But Louisa is the daughter of a disgraced Earl who must be busy trying to find a titled husband. Just the thought of it makes Lloyd want to succumb to the rage he periodically experiences (another Mackenzie inheritance).

Unfortunately, Louisa has her hands quite full. Yes, it’s suitor related, but instead of a garden proposal she is busy getting blackmailed by a handsome but sinister bishop who wants her to be his wife. He’s generously telling her that he’ll forgive her family’s debt to him if she does it, and before Louisa can tell him to go to hell in an appropriately ladylike way, said Bishop keels over dead from a cup of tea Louisa just handed him. In an empty tent. With no one else around. Looks bad, right? Which is why her sister insists that Detective Lloyd Fellows be called in to investigate the case. The Mackenzies aren’t putting one of their family into the hands of some overeager constable looking to make a name for himself.

Lloyd might be suspicious of everyone but he believes Louisa when she says she is innocent, even after they both discover the small bottle of Prussic acid (the poison the bishop died from ingesting) in her skirt pocket. Not only is Louisa shocked at a man dying in front of her, but she’s also horrified to discover that she is being ostracized from the ton, with “friends” dropping right and left from her life. The one constant is the ever-frustrating, distant detective who kisses like a dream and makes every other man in her life pale by comparison. Even when he admits there is something between them, Lloyd Fellows refuses to do anything about it. Louisa realizes with everything about her life in a shambles, there’s one thing she’s not about to compromise, and that’s her future happiness. Look out, Lloyd!

The first four books in the series, each focusing on a Mackenzie brother (left to right – Ian, Mac, Cameron, and Hart)

Lloyd Fellows, you cheeky devil, we knew you’d grow into your honorary Mackenzie status! Just as Hart, the Duke of Kilmorgan and oldest (legitimate) Mackenzie brother admits, you and your barmaid mother got hosed by your horrible father just like the rest of the family. I was worried that Louisa might be a little too much of a “good girl” to pull off the heroine role, but in Jennifer Ashley’s hands I had nothing to worry about. This murder is exactly what was needed to shake her foundations just enough for Louisa to focus on what needs to be done rather than what is expected of her and my God, *fans self* the heat between her and Lloyd! More than one reader would be more than willing to be ravished on Lloyd’s office desk, I’m thinking.

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #6) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, October 1, 2013)

This outstanding novella carries all the hallmarks of a Jennifer Ashley romance – strong heroine, plenty of danger, a sexy, smart leading man, and the love of family as a major theme – making it an ideal snack before the slightly bigger meal of the next full length novel, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, which is coming out on October 1st. We see the young, devilishly handsome Daniel prominently featured in this book as well, and I’m interested how his goals of travel and reaching his engineer potential with his inventions will play out. I bet he’s going to find that woman who will support him in all his work, and I’m not the least bit worried about how young Daniel will be when he finally discovers her. With all the darkness in the lives of his father, Cam, and his uncles, Daniel understands how rare and special true love is, so I’m hoping he’s going to grab it with both hands when it lands in his lap.

Keep in mind that this series is going to run out of characters soon. Ashley recently posted on her excellent blog that her plan is to next publish a novella as well as a novel about the two remaining McBride brothers (brothers-in-law to Cameron Mackenzie), followed by a prequel novella about the Mackenzie ancestor who was the only one of his brothers to survive Culloden. Finally she’ll comfort us with a final novella about the entire family – I’m hoping that one comes with complementary tissues since it will be tough saying goodbye to my favorite Scotsmen and the women in their lives!

Readers of historical romance (or simply romance) will adore the quality writing and characters of the Highland Pleasures series, and this novella is an outstanding addition to a band of brothers finding love despite their rough start in life. Did I mention it’s only $1.99? Get reading! 🙂

Countdown to Christmas: Mackenzie Family Christmas Is THE Perfect Gift for Fans of the Highland Pleasures Series

17 Dec

This post isn’t going to mean much to you if you haven’t read Jennifer Ashley‘s Highland Pleasures series, one of my favorite historical romance series on the market. If you like hot historical romance, I would pose the question – why on earth haven’t you read these yet??? Gorgeous Victorian Scotsmen (nobles, no less) always on the wrong side of scandal lead dissipated, tortured lives until finding the feisty women who complete them. Humor, love, and passion abound in gorgeous settings until you’re ready to go marry the first Mackenzie man you meet.

The previous four books each focused on one of the brothers:

  • The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie featuring my favorite Mackenzie brother, Ian, who is autistic (although the time period doesn’t recognize that and simply labels him mad). He meets the wealthy widow Beth Ackerley and knows he must have her as she calms him while inflaming his senses like no other.
  • Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage focuses on Mac, the artist brother who – through his alcoholism – estranged his lovely wife Isabella. He’s sober now but wants her back and someone trying to pass off paintings in his name is the perfect excuse to show her he’s changed.
  • If Ian is my favorite, Cam is a close second, and in The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, his debauched lifestyle finds a purpose when Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting, the beautiful widow Ainsley Douglas, comes to help Isabella with her weekend party for the oldest Mackenzie brother, Hart, the Duke of Kilmorgan. Cam has an older teenage son, Daniel (who is wonderful – I’d marry Cam for Daniel alone), and a host of horrifying memories from his first wife who was insane. But Ainsley teaches him how to trust, and shows him that she’s happier with him and Daniel in the country with the thoroughbreds Cam trains than with jewels and parties in Europe.
  • The Duke’s Perfect Wife finally shows Hart Mackenzie, the Machiavellian political manipulator with a penchant for very specific sexual tastes, vulnerable to one woman, Eleanor Ramsay, who spurned him years ago. They’ve never stopped loving each other, even from afar when Hart finally married, losing his mouse of a wife and newborn to childbed fever. He’s been a widow for some time but when Eleanor pops into his life to avert a scandal that might cost him some of his hard won political power, he sees it as a sign he’s meant to get her back into his life.

I can’t emphasize enough how much you fall in love with these couples, and seeing each of them happy in subsequent books, with babies coming and Daniel growing up and headed to university, is so gratifying. The secondary characters, particularly of the quirky servants who surround the Mackenzies (they are an eccentric bunch) and the various in-laws offer no end of entertainment and run throughout the series.

The Seduction of Elliot McBride (Highland Pleasures #5) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, December 31, 2012)

So with that in mind, you can imagine how fantastic an e-novella like this is for Mackenzie fans. We see all our wonderful couples and their families, with Hart and Eleanor married for about a year and expecting a baby around the holidays. Naturally all the Mackenzies have gathered at the ducal castle, along with a host of related family members and are gearing up to celebrate Christmas (for the Sassenachs among them, the Scots make their big holiday Hogmanay, or New Year’s). Everyone is worried about Eleanor who is thirty-three and having her first child. She’s pretty uncomfortable and fairly bedridden at eight months pregnant, but it doesn’t stop Hart from lavishing her with attention even while he stays awake with the fear of losing her.

Ian is getting a lot of attention as well. He’s tracked down one of his fantastically expensive Ming bowls, this time from an elusive Russian aristocrat who was a reluctant seller, but tragedy strikes when the bowl is broken. When Ian retreats to his room, everyone worries he’s going to have another episode, but he’s secretly working on a very “Ian” gift for Beth and his children. Cam and Ainsley have their hands full with their daughter little Gavina, and Mac is painting something extra special for Isabella.

Jennifer Ashley is a master of laying the foundation for future books and she doesn’t ease up just because this is a self-published novella. When Isabella’s sister Louisa arrives and spots Lloyd Fellows, the Mackenzie born on the wrong side of the blanket to a Cockney mistress of the late earl, all she can think of is how she boldly kissed him at Cam and Ainsley’s wedding and how it was wonderful. But she’s determined to restore some of her family’s besmirched honor (between Isabella’s scandalous elopement and their father’s frittering away the family fortune, the Scrantons have a somewhat blackened name). Being interested in a common detective is not going to help Lady Louisa’s goals. (We’re going to see Lloyd and Louisa’s story in August 2013 in The Untamed Mackenzie, #5.5 in the series.)

Not far from how I picture the Mackenzie castle (although according to Ian, it’s actually more symmetrical).

Ainsley’s delicious Scottish brothers cause no end of story ideas to flow for Ashley as well. Confusingly, her brother Elliot is shown as being married, although his book, The Seduction of Elliot McBride doesn’t actually come out until December 31, 2012 (and yes, I have preordered it for Kindle delivery on the stroke of Hogmanay!). Wouldn’t that make Mackenzie Family Christmas number 5.25 in the series? I’m incredibly intrigued by Elliot without even knowing him, since his post-traumatic stress from his service in India is what gave Ainsley the ability to understand her husband Cam’s innermost demons.

Two other hints are thrown our way for future books – Daniel indicates he has a few more years to sow his wild oats while working on his engineering projects and being a scientist (and I knew from the start that this young Mackenzie was going to fall hard and young surrounded by all these men finding their true loves). His book, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (#6) has an October 1, 2013 release and I’m warning people now not to bother me that day.

Ainsley’s older brother, the widower Sinclair McBride, lost his beloved wife five years earlier and can’t seem to manage his two hellion children. The Mackenzie nanny makes it quite clear he’s got to get himself a good governess after his son sets fire to his bed (by accident). I’m guessing 2014 will have us see the publication of Rules for a Proper Governess (#7) where Sinclair and his children will finally meet their match. Ashley’s website indicates an unnamed #6.5 book in the series, so I’ll eagerly see what comes of that!

When so many authors crank out a tepid novella for a holiday tie-in, Jennifer Ashley gives us an emotionally poignant and always fun glimpse of the wild, loving Mackenzie family at Christmastime. I would say that she managed to give her fans of the Highland Pleasures series “the perfect gift.” Thanks, Jennifer!

One of the Best Shifter Romance Series on the Market: Shifters Unbound by Jennifer Ashley

22 Oct

Pride Mates (Shifters Unbound #1- Liam and Kim’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, April 26, 2010)

I do not understand why so many otherwise normal romance readers get their panties in a bind admitting they enjoy paranormal romance, particularly shifter romance. Haven’t we all felt the lash of people judging us for reading romance? Why would we do this to each other? Sheesh, people.

A good shifter romance is sexy, steamy, and has a fabulous world you can dive into and not resurface until the last page is read. There’s lust and usually the idea that the shifter has a sense of finding his or her “mate.” But the really good shifter romances show the intense attraction between the hero and heroine grow into a deep abiding love based on the knowledge that comes with truly understanding someone. Really amazing shifter romance, like good steampunk, uses the concept of the “other” to highlight issues of racism and discrimination that exist in our world and show us noble characters determined to fight it.

Guess what? Jennifer Ashley writes the amazing kind of shifter romance in her Shifters Unbound series.

You might remember my shameless kvelling over Ashley’s incredible historical romance books, the Highland Pleasures series starring the uber-hot Mackenzie men, and it’s a credit to her versatility that she can transition into paranormal with seemingly effortless grace.

Primal Bonds (Shifters Unbound #2 – Sean and Andrea’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, March 1, 2011)

In the first book of the series, Pride Mates, our heroine Kim Fraser boldly goes to the heart of Shiftertown, where the government makes all the shape shifters live, to research a pro bono case her law firm assigned her. Her client, a shifter, has been accused of killing his human girlfriend and Kim is convinced of his innocence, but she knows the jury will be all too willing to believe his guilt. Most people see shifters as wild animals, barely controlled by the magical collars they are forced to wear to keep them from giving in to their violent animal instincts. When her client informs her that no one will talk to her unless she convinces Shiftertown’s second-in-command, Liam Morrissey, of the seriousness of her mission, Kim bravely heads out to do just that.

Liam is a sexy, Irish (yes, I said Irish) feline shifter kept continually busy helping his father run their pride and settle Shiftertown’s disputes. Over 100 years old, yet looking a hunky thirty-something, he’s delighted with the spunk of this gorgeous lawyer. He’s never been attracted to humans before, but for this curvy brunette with her determined chin and brave attitude, he’s willing to defy his father’s edict to get rid of her and actually help her do her job. It doesn’t take him long to realize that this woman is the mate he’s been waiting for all his life, but he also knows that to truly claim her would ruin her career and the life she’s so carefully built.

Anyone who loves the Highland Pleasures series will see a few similarities in how Ashley constructs her characters. Her heroes are strong and often playful, but have tortured pasts and secrets they slowly dole out to the heroine as she earns their trust and love. The female leads are feisty (who else can stand up to these alpha males?) but loving, and usually take one look at the males’ close family relationships, either genetic or purposely chosen, and realize that they are keepers. Kim and Liam have such amazing banter that you are grinning like an idiot half the time and the sexual tension and love scenes have you reaching for a glass of ice water and it’s not because Ashley transmits a sense of the Austin, Texas heat.

The world-building is what totally blew me away. I knew Jennifer Ashley had the ability to plunge me into a vivid world (she did it with Victorian England and Scotland already with the Mackenzies), but I had no idea she was capable (or quite honestly that any author was capable) of placing me in an all-too-believable world of discrimination and secrecy. Shifters were created by the duplicitous Fae, who attempted to breed humans and animals with magic to create an army. This backfired as shifters were too powerful to become docile. Hiding among humans for centuries, the shifters were feared and hunted when their presence became known. With poor infant mortality rates and facing regular starvation, Liam, his widowed father, Dylan, and his brothers Sean and Kenny decided to have their families take the collar – a magical Fae-infused device which would control their violent tendencies by inflicting tremendous pain upon them.

Shifter Made (Shifters Unbound #.5 – prequel novella to series and Alanna’s and Niall’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, April 20, 2011)

This process was unbelievably painful, yet being able to control their feral tendencies and live in relative peace with each other (and among different species of shifters, unheard of in the wild) was the reasonable trade-off. Yet Kenny lost his mate when she gave birth to their son, Connor, and Kenny died later at the hands of a feral shifter, leaving his father and brothers to raise his son. But while human governments think they have shifters under control, in actuality this group has been trained in brilliant subterfuge for a millennia  They have coping strategies unknown to humans, both regarding the collars that attempt to control them as well as in living their lives within the ghetto-like confines of their towns and the Jim Crow-like laws which rule their behavior. It’s a brilliant world, all too believable once you get used to the idea of shape shifters.

The second book in the series, Primal Bonds, focuses on Sean, the second brother and the all-important guardian of Shiftertown. Sean Morrissey is bonded to the Fae-infused sword of the Guardian, a sword created by one of his ancestors and handed down through his family. His job is vital to shifters yet makes him a feared individual among them – the sword is used to dispatch shifters to the Summerland or their afterlife, making him a specter of death. Because women shy from anything permanent with such a sober job description, he offers to mate-claim Andrea Gray, the niece of family friend (and his father’s lover) Glory, despite never having set eyes on the wolf shifter.

Andrea is half-Fae, half-Lupine and that heritage has made her life a misery in the Colorado town she grew up in. When the jackass son of the leader tries to forcibly mate-claim her, she turns to her aunt for help. Getting off the bus in Austin, Texas, she’s astonished that the man kind enough to mate-claim her so she can make her escape is the gorgeous Guardian of the town. His Irish accent and underlying playfulness is a fascinating counterpart to his all-too-serious job, but the Fae part of Andrea is called to Sean. On his part, Sean realizes this is no mere claim-of-convenience as the gorgeous wolf with the dark gray eyes is someone he must take to mate. While swirling power struggles among the shifters and the Fae try to keep them apart, Andrea and Sean might hold the key to freeing the shifters from some of the bonds that try and hold them.

Sean is a total hunk, playful in his own way like Liam but more intense and with plenty of guilt due to his job description. Andrea is different from all other wolf shifters because of her Fae side, and Ashley does a terrific job of introducing us to the world of Fae as Andrea begins to uncover more information about her father and some of her remarkable abilities, particularly with Sean helping and protecting her.

The prequel novella, Shifter Made, is the prefect next step to the series to read after Sean and Andrea’s story. The relationship Sean has to the sword of the Guardian (and Andrea’s affinity to it as well) makes the story of the sword’s creation so welcome. The master sword maker and metalsmith Niall O’Connell hates the Fae, remembering how they enslaved his people, and he has his hands full raising his motherless sons and keeping food on the table. When a beautiful Fae princess comes into his life to ask him to make a sword, he knows there is no trusting her, but her beauty cannot be denied. Alanna has been sent by her manipulative brother to medieval Ireland to put her own brand of magic into a sword that will bring the shifters to heel, but she has other ideas of rebellion, ideas that expand beyond helping the shifters after she feels the attraction to the ruggedly handsome Niall.

Bodyguard (Shifters Unbound #2.5 – Ronan and Elizabeth’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, November 18, 2011)

I have to admit to a real soft spot in the shifter novel universe for bear shifters (I guess I go for the big, cuddly type that can turn badass when properly riled) so I was ecstatic when Ashley released Bodyguard, the novella about the Kodiak bear-shifter, Ronan, who works as bouncer at the Morrissey’s shifter pub.

Plenty of shifters shop at the funky novelty store owned by Elizabeth Chapman and her sister, Mabel, so when Ronan is in there late one night looking for a present for his housemate Rebecca, the last thing he expects to see is the cute human owner being held at shotgun point by some punk kid. He doesn’t think twice before shifting and taking down the would-be killer even though the cops who come on the scene arrest him for attacking a human.

Elizabeth does not need all this attention from the police but there is no way she isn’t coming to the defense of the kind – and seriously hot – shifter who got shot and arrested for his pains. She does what he asks and calls in Shiftertown’s leader and his human mate who is a lawyer. Hoping it will all blow over, she’s dismayed to discover that the brother of the obnoxious sociopath who was going to kill her is an equally scary organized crime boss and he’s determined she won’t get to testify. Ronan insists on taking her to his house and it’s not long before she gets a good look at his caring nature and his luscious body.

Ronan realizes quickly that Elizabeth is hiding something huge about her past, but he trusts her, so much that when the Morrissey leaders try and force her to tell them her secrets, Ronan mate-claims her to keep them at bay. Slowly showing her she can trust him, this burly bear lets Elizabeth come to him to share her sweet kisses and her body, which he is happy to guard. When another threat from her past is unleashed, Ronan is happy to take on all comers and insure that this tough, sexy human is his forever.

Wild Cat (Shifters Unbound #3 – Cassidy and Diego’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, January 3, 2012)

I just want to cuddle up with a bear as patient and kind as Ronan (but who turn into a gigantic, enraged Kodiak bear when necessary) and this novella at $.99 on Amazon.com is a total bargain. We get a slightly different combination of partners in the third official novel (the fifth work) in the series, Wild Cat, when Ashley decides to move out of Texas to the Las Vegas shiftertown. Eric Warden came to Austin in Sean and Andrea’s story, Primal Bonds, on Dylan Morrissey’s suggestion and stayed to help them fight the Fae threat. He’s back on his home turf with his sister and second-in-command, fellow feline shifter Cassidy , who is commemorating the one year anniversary of her mate’s murder.

Cassidy has a problem, though. She’s being followed and shot at by an unknown assailant and when she tries to escape in cat form to an abandoned, half-built highrise to evade him, the cops show up. Las Vegas Detective Diego Escobar can’t believe that he has to go up to the 51st floor to figure out what has happened to the cops who investigated the trespass call. But hearing shots fired, he doesn’t have a choice – he’s just got to put the horrible night out of his mind when he almost fell to his death and then watched his partner and best friend get shot in front of him. It’s easy to forget when he sees a gorgeous Snow Leopard, clearly a female shifter, shift to her naked female form to save him when her assailant is busy shooting at them both. Getting her free takes some doing, but he’s responsible for her and, by God, he’s going to figure out what’s going on. He doesn’t know much about shifters, but this stunning blond is all he can think about and he’s vouched for her behavior and her safety.

Cassidy can’t believe that this human is stirring her blood in a way she hasn’t experienced since her mate’s death. She knows someone is hunting her but she cannot figure out why. Diego doesn’t understand shifters, but he doesn’t back down from Cassidy or her alpha brother Eric, so his strength is clear. Can they trust him with their secrets, at least enough to figure out what is going on? Particularly if they are right and the duplicitous Fae are involved again?

I was leery of moving the Shifters Unbound storyline out of Texas (I love my Morrisseys and Ronan!) but Las Vegas has an equally as compelling shifter presence and I did like Eric Warden. Luckily Cassidy is a terrific character, honestly mourning her mate but displaying the shifter openness of not denying what she is feeling for the sexy Diego Escobar. Ashley’s usual adept characterization is fabulous and the story arc is one that continues themes laid down in previous books with plenty of loose ends to be continued in future ones. It’s wonderful.

Hard Mated (Shifters Unbound #3.5 – Spike and Myka’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, August 19, 2012)

Jennifer Ashley’s propensity for writing meaty novellas in between the full-length novels are a series reader’s dream, especially since they never feel half-assed or with a plot simply tacked on like so many other authors. In Hard Mated, we are back in Austin with the Morrissey’s tattooed tracker Spike, who has just been informed by an adorable human that he is the father of a cub. Seeing as the mother of his child was a shifter groupie one-night stand and that shifters have a hard time fathering children, this astonishes him, but no more than discovering that the formerly vibrant woman is dying of cancer. Her death leaves him with the custody of a wild little cat shifter who simply won’t behave. Spike might be able to break feral shifters to his will but he has no skill set for dealing with a willful little boy who just lost the only Mom he ever knew.

Myka is mourning the death of her best friend, Jillian, and worried about her little four-year-old son Jordan. She found Jordan’s shifter father working off steam at a fight club and it’s clear he doesn’t have other children. His physical appeal can’t be denied – the guy is gorgeous – but he also didn’t say a lot so she has no idea whether Jordan is safe with him. Myka’s also got the major problem of losing her livelihood if the stable owners where she trains quarter horses for a living decide to sell since there’s no way she and the other workers can buy such an expensive facility, but as important as that is, Jordan takes precedence.

Spike’s son is cutting a destructive swath through his house and even his grandmother doesn’t seem to know the best way to deal with the little guy. His job as a tracker means he’s at the leader’s beck and call, but Spike is all too aware that Liam Morrissey doesn’t really know him or trust him. Liam inherited Spike from the previous shifter leader, the megalomaniacal Fergus, after killing the bastard in a dominance fight. Spike likes working for Liam and thinks he’s a better leader, but he finally has something in his life, Jordan, that is more important than running Liam’s errands. When Myka shows up to check on Jordan, something clicks inside Spike. With her clear-eyed gaze and perceptive mind, Myka sees past Spike’s tough facial expression and tattoos to the giving person who cares for his family and wants to do the right thing. The fact she’s comfortable sassing the leader of Shiftertown and telling him how he doesn’t appreciate Spike only makes him that much happier. But past threats put Myka and little Jordan in the line of fire and Spike decides that he’s willing to fight anyone, and sacrifice anything, to keep them both safe.

Mate Claimed (Shifters Unbound #4 – Eric and Iona’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, October 2, 2012)

I loved Spike and the perspicacious Myka, but was dying to get back to Las Vegas. While Cassidy and Diego had their plot line in Wild Cat, the other burning question was what was going to happen to Iona Duncan, the secret shifter living as a human who Eric Warden met and was attracted to? In the fourth full-length novel of the series, Mate Claimed, we get our answer.

Eric has kept a close eye on the stunning and sexy Iona Duncan since the minute he scented her in the shifter bar. An unclaimed female shifter, secretly living as a human, is a powderkeg waiting for a spark, but Eric is reluctant to drag her into Shiftertown and slap a collar on her like he knows he should. Iona is in the prime of her fertile years and clearly beginning the mating frenzy. After having denied her shifter side for her whole life, she needs Eric to help her accept who she is, and he is more than willing to help this raven-haired beauty.

The problem is that Eric had a mate long ago and has a fully-grown son, the powerful Jace. He knows that he should bring Iona in and encourage one of his unmated males to claim her but there is no way he can do that. The months of tracking her (and kissing her senseless) has been a way of keeping her all to himself, but he realizes a move will have to be made, and soon, since Iona is finding it tougher to keep from her panther form as the restlessness of her frenzy takes over. He is not about to let this beautiful woman go feral if he can help it. That Eric also has to deal with the idiot humans relocating a town of Lupine shifters into his Shiftertown is an unwelcome distraction. He’d much rather be spending all his time helping Iona than fighting dominance battles with Graham, the new wolf leader determined to oust Eric.

Iona does not know what to make of Eric. Yes, with his rock hard body and green eyes, he sets her blood on fire, but Iona has kept her shifter self hidden for years, not just because she would have to take the collar, but to protect her mother and sister who could go to jail for keeping her off the government radar for those decades. That Eric doesn’t try and force her to his will, just tempts her constantly, is a mark in his favor, but the world gets more dangerous when the town council chooses her construction company to build the new houses in Shiftertown. Iona is exposed to more shifters, including the wolf leader challenging Eric, and she is now caught between them.

Iona is a giving person who is nevertheless strong and dominant whether in human or her panther form. I loved how Eric held himself back, playing with Iona sexually (and boy, did they play! Yowza.) but not pushing her to have sex even though he knew with her mating frenzy he could have easily convinced her to succumb to him. This was honestly one of the most psychological books in the series so far, with Iona wrestling with accepting her nature and easing into the Warden family and Shiftertown prior to giving herself fully to Eric. On the flip side, Eric knows he wants Iona and readily admits that there’s no way another man will have her, but he has to undergo an emotional realization that he actually loves her, an epiphany that means he has to acknowledge he’s ready to move on from mourning his lost mate after all these years. It’s deeply moving, yet Ashley mixes sex and love in the perfect dose, all the while giving us conflict within Shiftertown (Graham and his Lupine crew) and the new villainous threat of humans, past and present, who experiment on shifters. I think it’s one of the most mind-blowing books of the series!

At the end of Mate Claimed, there is a delicious preview of the next full-length novel of the series, Tiger Magic, which stars the super shifter Iona frees from the government facility, the tiger with no name. He’s relocated to the Austin shiftertown and helps a beautiful human with car problems, but I’m thinking with that hunk of cat, she’s going to be getting much more than she bargained for (lucky woman)! But since that book is not coming out until June 2013, I’m more intrigued by the lack of information regarding the next interim novella, to be found in Angela Knight’s anthology, Unbound, to be published March 5, 2013. How can we not have an inkling about who this will focus on? Will it be Peigi, the damaged uncollared shifter freed by Cassidy and Diego, and Reid, the Fae who loves her? Ellison, the hunky Texan wolf tracker (I’m hoping Ellison gets his own book, FYI)? Well, both Kindle editions are pre-ordered, so I’m all set.

No matter who is the focus, I guarantee that, in the hands of Jennifer Ashley, it’s going to be another amazing shifter romance. Thanks for all your hard work and imagination, Jennifer!!!

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